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Clenched Fist or Open Palm? 

Five Jesuit Perspectives on Pluralism 

Peter McDonough 

BX3701 .S88x 

Studies in the spirituality of Jesuits. 

Issue: v.37:no.2(2005:summer) 

Arrival Date: 05/19/2005 

O'Neill Current Periodicals 

37/2 • SUMMER 2005 


The Seminar is composed of a number of Jesuits appointed from their provinces in the 
United States. 

It concerns itself with topics pertaining to the spiritual doctrine and practice of 
Jesuits, especially United States Jesuits, and communicates the results to the members of 
the provinces through its publication, STUDIES IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF JESUITS. This is 
done in the spirit of Vatican Li's recommendation that religious institutes recapture the 
original inspiration of their founders and adapt it to the circumstances of modern times. 
The Seminar welcomes reactions or comments in regard to the material that it publishes. 

The Seminar focuses its direct attention on the life and work of the Jesuits of 
the United States. The issues treated may be common also to Jesuits of other regions, to 
other priests, religious, and laity, to both men and women. Hence, the journal, while 
meant especially for American Jesuits, is not exclusively for them. Others who may find 
it helpful are cordially welcome to make use of it. 


James W. Bernauer, S.J., teaches philosophy at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

Richard A. Blake, S.J., is chairman of the Seminar and editor of STUDIES; he teaches 
film studies at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. (2002). 

Kevin Burke, S.J., teaches systematic theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, 
Cambridge, Mass. (2003). 

Gregory C. Chisholm, S.J., is administrator of Holy Name of Jesus Parish, in South 
Los Angeles, Cal. (2003). 

T. Frank Kennedy, S.J., teaches music and is director of the Jesuit Institute at Bos- 
ton College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. (2004). 

Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., teaches theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los 
Angeles, Cal. (2002). 

William E. Reiser, S.J., teaches theology at the College of the Holy Cross, Worces- 
ter, Mass. (2004). 

Thomas L Schubeck, S.J., teaches social ethics at John Carroll University, Univer- 
sity Heights, Ohio (2004). 

Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J., teaches mathematics and computer science at Santa Clara 
University, Santa Clara, Cal. (2003). 

The opinions expressed in STUDIES are those of the individual authors thereof. 
Parentheses designate year of entry as a Seminar member. 

Copyright © 2004 and published by the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality 

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Clenched Fist or Open Palm? 

Five Jesuit Perspectives on Pluralism 

Peter McDonough 


37/2 • SUMMER 2005 

The first word . . . 

The ice had but recently broken up on the Hudson River, when a small 
cortege made its way through the gates of St. Andrew on Hudson with the 
earthly remains of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It was Easter Week of 
1955, yes, fifty years ago. In one of those inconsequential decisions with 
classic unforeseen consequences, the rector, Lincoln Walsh, decided to let 
the juniors go ahead with their plans for a villa day rather than stay home 
to attend the burial of an obscure French Jesuit living alone in an apart- 
ment in New York. The novice master, William Gleason, concurred and let 
the novices have one of their rare "long walks" away from the property. 
The Lenten discipline of the old observance had made its inevitable mark 
on community morale, as had the relentless upstate New York winter, and 
they judged, probably quite accurately, that canceling the holiday would 
cause more harm than good. Years later, as Teilhard's reputation grew, 
some would surmise that he was buried quietly, as though in disgrace, 
attended by only a small, discreet band of his brother Jesuits. As one who 
arrived at St. Andrew's the next year, I can testify that it was a nonevent 
in the folklore of the community. No one mentioned it, or thought about 
it, and this in an environment where the "secundi" eagerly passed along 
the most insignificant tidbit of house history to the "primi." 

Other misunderstandings over the next few years gave rise to 
further speculation of his being treated poorly by the Jesuit family. The 
brother in charge of the cemetery, not knowing the practice of the French 
family names, arranged for the inscription on the headstone assuming 
"Teilhard" as the first name and omitting "Petrus" altogether. (He was not 
alone. One of the larger residences at Jesuit School of Theology in Berke- 
ley is still called Chardin House.) No one recognized the mistake until 
sometime later when his fame had spread, and then the marker was quietly 
corrected. For years, those who found problems with both his writings and 
their mode of publication outside the customary channels of Society cen- 
sorship remained uneasy about his living outside a community. Those 
closer to the scene realized that his apartment was a temporary arrange- 
ment provided by superiors while sections of the St. Ignatius residence on 
Park Avenue were being renovated. The stories grew simply because so few 
Jesuits knew him during his lifetime. 

Not long after his death, as The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine 
Milieu grew in popularity, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin became one of the 
most widely known Jesuits of the twentieth century. These recollections 
came streaming through my mind as I read Peter McDonough's observa- 

tion that some Jesuits are better known and appreciated outside the Soci- 
ety and the Church than within. Some also increase in stature only after 
their deaths, when scholars have had the opportunity to sift through their 
works and see what they were really up to. Here's an interesting game to 
play sometime at liquid Vespers. Ask who are the ten foremost American 
Jesuits still at work, or to open the field a bit, of the last half of the twenti- 
eth century. Chances are that the list will be dominated by those engaged 
in ecclesiastical disciplines, and most of those seminary professors known 
to generations of scholastics. Few of us know very much about the biolo- 
gists, historians, diplomats, lawyers, literary scholars, or sociologists among 
our number, much less the ichthyologists or theoretical physicists, yet 
these scholars may be precisely the bridge builders to the wider culture 
that makes the contribution of the Society of Jesus unique at this moment 
in the Church's history. 

Although he had achieved substantial recognition in scientific 
circles, much of Teilhard's bridge building occurred after his death. His 
was a season for bridge building, and as such it must be admitted that his 
season was quite different from ours. At mid-century, the mass movements 
of armies during World War II, the birth of the United Nations and the 
rise of instantaneous communication through radio, newsreels and the 
airplane had truly shrunk the world. Television was in its infancy, and 
Marshall McLuhan, soon to be hailed as the prophet of the communica- 
tions age and coiner of the catchphrase "the global village," first reached 
notoriety with the publication of The Mechanical Bride in 195 1. With his 
work in Egypt, Europe, China, and then the United States, Teilhard em- 
bodied this change in our perception of global citizenship in a world sud- 
denly grown much smaller. 

The Church itself became self-consciously engaged in bridge build- 
ing. Pope John XXIII succeeded Pius XII in 1958, and before long prepara- 
tions began for the ecumenical council that would finally meet in 1963. 
Emboldened by Pope John's notion of aggiornamento, the council fathers 
tried to engage in dialogue with the contemporary world, with other Chris- 
tian communions, and indeed with non-Christians as well. The Eurocentric 
Latin Church of Rome not only embraced local churches with their many 
diverse cultures and languages, but it also found a certain level of comfort 
with an autonomous secular society and the varied forms of governments 
that had evolved in the modern world. The Church and the secular state 
need not be antagonists; in fact they have a great deal to offer each other. 

Teilhard's status as a priest-scientist made him a translator be- 
tween two often antagonistic cultures or religion and science. During those 
years, science was hot, and so were reflections about its importance. The 
Russians put up Sputnik in 1957, the United States countered with its 
communications satellite Telstar in 1 960, and an energetic young presi- 
dent of the United States goaded the scientific imagination with the prom- 


ise to put a man on the moon before the close of the decade. The 
physicist-turned-novelist C. P. Snow was warning us about the rapid devel- 
opment of phenomena that he described in his Two Cultures and the Scienti- 
fic Revolution (1959). Teilhard's scientific achievement, coupled with his 
poetic, if not mystical, writing provided a glorious bridge between Snow's 
two cultures, which he defined — perhaps simplistically, as some have later 
contended — as the literary and the scientific. To keep the chronology in 
focus, Harper put out English versions of The Phenomenon of Man in 1959, 
and The Divine Milieu the following year. 

Teilhard represented in his own life the kind of catholic wholeness 
that scholars strive for. It seems sublimely fitting that as he articulated his 
own reflections, he stressed unities and reconciliations, from the combina- 
tions of molecules into amino acids to the rise of human thought in the 
noosphere, until all the world's energies converged at its Omega Point in 
Christ: "The universe fulfilling itself in a synthesis of centres in perfect 
conformity with the laws of union. God, the Centre of centres." His scien- 
tific work, coupled with his lyrical reflections on it, truly enriched our 
understanding of Ignatius 's meditations on the Incarnation and the Con- 
templation to Attain Divine Love. His thought presented a splendid vision 
of unity in all God's creation in language beautifully attuned to modern 
readers in a scientific age. 

Then something soured, not all at once but gradually and tragi- 
cally. We once thought that all this conversation would lead to reconcilia- 
tion and convergence, but when we grew weary with words, we found that 
we preferred our customary comfortable divisions. Teilhard, bridge build- 
ing, and dialogue fell from fashion, and we entered into a new age of 
contentiousness, almost as though demolishing those newly built bridges 
had become a universally accepted strategy for protecting one's tribal or 
personal integrity. In its worst forms, various fundamentalisms — Muslim 
and Jewish, Hindu, Catholic and Protestant — have reemerged, and hurling 
anathemas or worse at those who disagree has once again become God's 
work. Personal, ideological, and class vilification have become the domi- 
nant rhetorical style. 

What happened? Many things, no one of which can be singled out 
as the sole determinate cause. As the sixties sputtered forward, we had the 
Vietnam War. The issues were complex, but the media simplified matters 
for the nightly news by caricaturing the conflict as a pitched battle be- 
tween hard-hats and hippies, hawks, and doves. Common ground and 
complexity had little room in the local evening news. "The Pill" brought a 
sexual revolution, and then subsequent waves of different forms of femi- 
nism and more recently the gay-rights movement have shaken many of our 
old conceptual categories. Again in their simplified form on television news 
shows these issues have driven people to the edges where they can indulge 
in doomsday fantasies without separating valid issues from nonsense. 

In the Church, we surely had points of friction during the Council 
and its aftermath, but the controversies surrounding Humanae Vitae in 
1968 opened the fault lines into a crevasse. It revealed two very different 
modes of being Catholic, and each side felt the other endangered the 
survival of the Church. With the rise of the new religious fundamenta- 
lisms, as societies at large succumbed to dogmatic secularism as the new 
orthodoxy, in the minds of many on both sides faith and reason regressed 
into faith vs. reason; church and state became church vs. state. In religious 
circles as well as in the disheartening politics of the red-state/blue-state 
polarity, it is simply enough to brand persons as liberal or conservative in 
order to reject whatever they stand for. What passes for balance in the 
media today consists of little more than having ideologues from opposite 
camps shouting slogans at each other. 

While McLuhan thought that spread of worldwide communication 
would create a global village, in fact the multiplication of media has had 
the opposite effect. People who get their news from Al Jazeera know that 
everything on Voice of America is a pernicious lie. Those who watch Fox 
News dismiss everything from CBS and the New York Times as liberal bias. 
One's point of view and mind-set make facts irrelevant to the discussion: 
facts can be interpreted and discussed; challenging one's mind-set cuts to 
the core of one's being. In this climate one cannot even discuss a movie 
like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ or Clint Eastwood's Million 
Dollar Baby without the conversation becoming a challenge to uncover the 
other's liberal, conservative, anti-Semitic, or pro-choice biases. Both sides 
see themselves as continually victimized by a hostile, powerful, and devi- 
ous adversary. They must take arms against a sea of troubles and let the 
bodies fall where they may. 

Without question, we've gone through a startling and unpleasant 
shift in rhetorical styles over the last thirty years. As the title of this issue 
of STUDIES suggests, we've traded the open palm for a clenched fist. Our 
contributor, Peter McDonough, a Jesuit watcher from his boyhood days at 
Brooklyn Prep, has assembled his own truly diverse list of remarkable 
Jesuits and has sifted out their varied contributions to help us understand 
how the extraordinary shifts in rhetoric have shaped dialogue in both the 
Church and civil society not only over the past few decades but over the 
centuries. One is Spanish: Balthasar Gracian, a seventeenth-century politi- 
cal philosopher, gadfly and all-purpose cynic who made the twentieth- 
century bestseller list of the New York Times. The rest are Americans. Two 
passed from the scene within living memory: Walter Ong, a scholar of 
literature and culture, and John Courtney Murray, a dogmatic theologian 
whose interests led him to Church-state relations. Still productive are 
Daniel Berrigan, poet and social activist, and John O'Malley, a distin- 
guished renaissance historian. 

Rather than provide a systematic commentary on each author, 
McDonough discusses the wider issues raised by prevalent rhetorical styles 
and perceptual frameworks and shows how the contribution of each of 
these men helps us understand the building and demolition of bridges in 
our own lifetimes. Like Teilhard, they contribute to the conversation from 
their own diverse backgrounds. It's a challenging essay, but one that prom- 
ises enormous rewards. 

Richard A. Blake, S.J. 



I. Introduction 1 

The Jesuit Rash 1 

The Cast of Characters: Five Leading Players and Their Roles 3 

Some Notes on the Cast 6 

II. Dealing with Pluralism 8 

Camelot, the Council, and Beyond 8 

Reaction or Accommodation? 9 

Radicalism Left and Right 10 

Church and State in the Secular City 13 

Romantic Anger, Intellectual Clarity, and Gender Roles 15 

III. A Wily Voice from the Past 20 

Weathering the Storm on the Bark of Peter 20 

Appearances and Substance 26 

Religion to Worldly Wisdom 27 

A Permeable Wall of Separation 30 

IV. Cultural Expressions with Sexual Overtones 32 

The Rhetoric of Reproach and the Embrace of the Temperate 32 

A Question of Cultural Development 35 

Gender by Nature or Culture? 36 

Resources for Tolerance and Change 37 


The author wishes to express his gratitude to the 
members of the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality for their 
feedback, and also to Noel Barber, Gene Bianchi, Ned 
Mattimoe, Doug McFerran, Jerry McKevitt, Ed Oakes, 
Marty O'Keefe, and Paul Soukup for their valuable 
comments. This essay is dedicated to the memory of 
Walter Ong. 

Currently living in Glendale, California, Peter 
McDonough is professor emeritus of political science, 
Arizona State University. He earned his Ph.D. from 
the University of Michigan in 1969, after secondary- 
and college-level studies at Brooklyn Prep, Saint Louis 
University, and Georgetown University. He has pub- 
lished several books and articles on comparative poli- 
tics, including Power and Ideology in Brazil (Prince- 
ton, 1981) and The Cultural Dynamics of Democratiza- 
tion in Spain (Cornell, 1998). His first book about the 
Jesuits, Men Astutely Trained, was published by the 
Free Press in 1992. A follow-up book, Passionate Un- 
certainty, coauthored with Eugene Bianchi, was pub- 
lished by the University of California Press in 2002. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? 

Five Jesuit Perspectives on Pluralism 

The division between agonistic and irenic styles of settling 
differences goes back a long way in the history of the Soci- 
ety. Traditionally, the distinction has reflected a cultural 
separation between masculine and feminine identities, be- 
tween the Church Militant and the Church Maternal. This 
essay considers various Jesuits who have taken up the theme 
in writing or expressed it in action. Changes in the treat- 
ment of the confrontational/conciliatory split emerge, partic- 
ularly as we move from John Courtney Murray and Walter 
Ong to the recent work of the historian John O'Malley. 
These changes have implications for the dynamics of reform 
in Catholicism. 

I. Introduction 

The Jesuit Rash 

'Tell me, Professor McDonough," the dean asked from behind 
her desk, "why do you study Jesuits?" 

It had been a long day. The members of the search committee 
wanted to hear about my work in Brazil and Spain. Instead I gave a 
talk about a study of the Society of Jesus I hoped to get started. 
They made a few inquiries. None of my answers were very convinc- 
ing, even to myself. 

I paused for a moment. "Because if I didn't study the Jesuits," I 
replied, "I think I would break out in a rash." 

"Oh, my," the dean said (she was English), salting alarm with 
drollery. "Don't do that." 

2 <$> Peter McDonough 

Britannic composure one, Irish impulsiveness zero. I didn't get 
the job. A few years later my first book on the Jesuits ap- 
peared — "Peter's midlife crisis book/ a colleague observed. Then, ten 
years later, another book, written with Gene Bianchi, came out, this 
one comparing Jesuits and former Jesuits. 

I'm still not sure why I study Jesuits. Two things come to 
mind, however. One is that I attended Jesuit schools for a total of 
nine years. I graduated from Brooklyn Prep (now Medgar Evers 
Community College) with the class of '57, from Saint Louis Univer- 
sity in 1961, followed, after a couple of years in the Peace Corps, by 
a one-year stint of graduate study at Georgetown. These nine years 
are a treasure house. Dan Berrigan brought me to downtown Man- 
hattan to meet Dorothy Day and shoot hoops with the Puerto Rican 
kids. When Dylan Thomas and the Beats were the rage, Walter Ong 
urged me to pay attention to the metaphysical poets. "Walter has a 
hundred ideas a day," the brethren used to say of him, "and ninety- 
nine of them are crap. But one is usually a humdinger." And so on. 

In the second place, a good deal of my professional life has 
been devoted to studying authoritarian regimes and their undoing. 
It would be misleading to suppose that there is a straightforward 
connection between the Catholic condition and authoritarian politics, 
just as it would be odd to equate what the Church has been going 
through since Vatican II with democratization. But there are some 
parallels. These rough analogies, together with reentry into the Jesuit 
world after a long absence, produced a shock of recognition. 

Transitologists customarily look at dual regime transforma- 
tions. How do you get from non-democratic to democratic politics? 
And, in the case of communist regimes, how do you get from com- 
mand to market economies? Alongside these political and economic 
shifts, there is a third dynamic, less commonly studied, having to do 
with cultural upheavals. These are sea changes in values and beliefs 
that condition the prospects of the more clearly tangible transitions. 
This is the sort of metamorphosis that attracted me to research on 
Catholicism and, because I had some experience with them, to the 
Jesuits in particular. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -& 3 

The Cast of Characters: Five Leading Players 
and Their Roles 

I am going to start by discussing three Jesuits — John Courtney 
Murray, Daniel Berrigan, and Walter Ong — whose names are known 
to most American Jesuits. I am also going to introduce Baltasar 
Gracian, a seventeenth-century Jesuit and a landmark of Spanish 
letters, who is all but unknown among English speakers. 

Why Gracian? The quick answer is that his harsh realism 
about the ways of the world acts as a counterweight to the generally 
uplifting though far from uncritical tenor of what Murray et al. have 
to offer. We will see that there are stronger reasons for including 
Gracian, but this one can do for now. 

I am going to conclude with a look at the recent work of John 
O'Malley, who may be better known among Jesuits for his research 
into the early history of the Society than for his ruminations on the 
course of Catholicism and of the "cultures of the West/ 7 

All these men bring distinctive approaches to a common 
problem: change in slow-moving institutions, including the Church. 
Gracian lays down a baseline. He is a thoroughgoing fatalist when it 
comes to changing anything. Next to him, all the others look opti- 
mistic, in varying degrees. 

"Change in slow-moving institutions" is a broad topic. The 
significance of these five Jesuits, and the links between them, have 
less to do with how they might be arrayed at various points along a 
progressive-conservative continuum than with the specific facets of 
change they address. They view the same syndrome from different 

Murray's defense of pluralism concentrated on the outer, 
political perimeter of Catholicism. The Church could live with a 
variety of regimes — even, as Murray contended, with democracy. 
Issues involving the separation of church and state, though contro- 
versial, do not reach into the moral sanctum of the Church. Gracian 
sticks with this level, too, though he is more interested in interper- 
sonal politics than the affairs of state. 

Questions of social justice and welfare go deeper. Certain 
principles are to be upheld regardless of the political dispensation 
the Church happens to be operating under. Prudence if you can, 
prophecy if you must. A commitment to good works and an uncom- 

4 ^ Peter McDonough 

promising stand against structural sin may rile benefactors and 
enemies alike. But in many cases social justice is a matter of degree, 
of what works, and less than utterly divisive. It is something that 
ecclesiastical authorities themselves can have a hand in implement- 
ing, and it has ample scriptural backing. This is the held that Dan 
Berrigan, and others less radical than he, have cultivated. 

Both politics and social justice are usually construed as outside 
matters. For the most part, they are within the zone of honest 
disagreement rather than dissent. It is a third tier that comes close to 

the inner workings of the Church. 
— — — -^^^— ^^^ Moral issues, denned as those con- 
An instructive analogy for cerning sexuality and the role of 

the political, social, and women, cut to the quick of institu- 

psychosexual tiers of tional Catholicism. Traditionally, 

Catholicism may be plate the Ch ^ rc l h has viewed the famil y 

tectonics m mucn tne same wav as Marxism 

understood class. It is the center of 
^ ^— — ^^— ^— a hierarchical system from which 

cultural beliefs and ancillary orga- 
nizations (like political arrangements) radiate. Sex held it all together. 
'The church/' as Walter Ong put it, "is sexually defined/' 1 

Held it together metaphorically at least. Loosely in fact. An 
instructive analogy for the political, social, and psychosexual tiers of 
Catholicism may be plate tectonics. The plates can drift apart, they 
can slam together, they can slide one on top of the other, or they 
move back and forth alongside one another. The shifting of one 
plate affects the others, but there is no reason to suppose that the 
plates should fit together in any particular way. Each of the Jesuits 
discussed here tends to focus on a single tier: Ong on sexuality, 
Murray on politics, Berrigan on social action, for example. The trick 
is to pick out the cross-level connections. 

Is there a recurring element that runs through the varied 
insights of these Jesuits as they contemplate one or another layer? 
My argument is that the thread connecting not only Ong, Murray, 
and Berrigan, but these men to Gracian and O'Malley as well, con- 
cerns the distinction between "agonistic" and "irenic" — in English, 

Walter J. Ong, Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Ithaca, 
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981), 172. The author wishes to acknowledge the 
assistance offerred by Mr. Douglas McFerran. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? •$• 5 

the difference between confrontational versus conciliatory — styles of 
settling conflicts. The distinction goes back to the roots of the Jesuit 
tradition. It is bound up with the supreme importance of rhetoric as 
a device for combat and persuasion — the " clenched fist," as the 
ancients wrote, or the "open palm." 2 

The divide has more than antiquarian interest. It is connected 
with what have been viewed as characteristically masculine and 
feminine traits and identities. All of the Jesuits under consideration, 
save one, partition the world in the essentially binary terms laid out 
by the agonistic/irenic split. But O'Malley alters the divide itself, and 
his revision has consequences for scenarios of reform in Catholicism. 

If the agonistic/irenic theme forms a leitmotiv across the work 
and writings of several leading Jesuits, it is important to keep two 
reservations in mind. First, as I 

noted, they approach it in differ- — — ^^»^^^^^^^^— 
ent ways and, second, the theme O'Malley et al are 

is more central for some, like Ong, bellwethers rather than 

than it is for others, like Berrigan. i$suers of manifestos . Instead 
The agonistic/irenic tension mat- f staking out doctrinal ideas 
ters because it is a ground bass or piUng on empirica i datUf 

running through the ideas of men they point toward sni p s in 

who otherwise go their own ways. sensibility, changes in the 

It matters, too, because this appar- sXant f Ught/ that transform 
ently common-sensical division, so ^he way we see. 

long a part of the mental furniture 

of Catholicism, shows signs of ^— ~ —— ~ ~ ~ " — - — ^^^ 
coming undone. It is a form of 

symbolic capital, uniting beliefs and images of authority, that no 
longer seems as compelling as it once did. One of the "metaphors 
we live by" has begun to show its age. 3 


John Pitcher, introduction to Francis Bacon, The Essays, ed. John Pitcher 
(London: Penguin, 1985), 15. A good statement of the difference made pertinent to 
contemporary Catholicism is the contrast drawn by Garry Wills between Cardinals 
Ratzinger and Bernandin in his "A Tale of Two Cardinals," New York Review of Books 
(April 26, 2001). 

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University 
of Chicago Press, 1980). 

6 ^ Peter McDonough 

So, my portraits of these Jesuits all circle around the age-old 
division between agonistic and irenic ways of being Catholic. There 
is also a plotline to this commonality. Though Murray was pretty 
solidly in the agonistic camp (as were those, like Gracian, who went 
before him), his penchant for political moderation indicates that he 
was hardly inflexible about it. His ambivalence foreshadows the 
transformation of the Church Militant into an institution divided 
within itself. By the time we get to Ong, we encounter a figure who 
realized that the sexual hierarchy associated with the agonistic/irenic 
mindset was simply no longer tenable. O'Malley takes the discussion 
a step further. He extends and blurs the erstwhile division between 
male and female. 

This evolution may seem intangible. The story takes on heft, 
however, once we realize that O'Malley et al. are bellwethers rather 
than issuers of manifestos. Instead of staking out doctrinal ideas or 
piling on empirical data, they point toward shifts in sensibility, 
changes in the slant of light, that transform the way we see. 

Some Notes on the Cast 

As a guide for the perplexed, here is some background infor- 
mation on the cast of characters. 

Born in 1921 in Minnesota but raised in Syracuse, New York, 
Daniel Berrigan was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1952. His first book, 
Time without Number, won the Lamont Poetry Prize. His later exploits 
as a peace activist during the Vietnam War landed him, along with 
his brother Philip, on the cover of Time and, on various occasions, in 
prison. Berrigan resides at the West Side Jesuit community in Man- 
hattan. He continues to write and minister to the gravely ill. 4 

Born in 1601 in provincial Spain, Baltasar Gracian y Morales 
entered the Society in 1619 and professed solemn vows in 1635. In 
addition to serving with valor as a military chaplain, he had a 
distinguished career teaching moral theology and Sacred Scripture at 

David Gonzalez presents a perceptive update on the work of Berrigan and 
his colleagues in "Giving Up Lives of Comfort for a Chance to Serve/' New York Times 
(December 14, 2004). 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -0- 7 

various colegios before finally running afoul of his superiors. He died 
in 1658. 5 

John Courtney Murray (1904-67) earned his doctorate in 
theology from the Gregorian University in 1937 and spent most of 
his career teaching the subject to Jesuit seminarians at Woodstock 
College in Maryland. He also served as editor of Theological Studies. 
Kept from publishing for a time on church-state relations, Murray 
eventually acted as a peritus, at the invitation of Cardinal Spellman, 
at Vatican II. 

Born in 1927, John O'Malley entered the Society in 1946 and 
earned his Ph.D. in history from Harvard. After teaching for several 
years at the University of Detroit, he moved to Weston Jesuit School 
of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., where he is Distinguished Profes- 
sor of Church History. 

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1912, Walter Ong obtained 
his doctorate in English literature from Harvard in 1955, after finish- 
ing his master's thesis at Saint Louis University under the tutelage of 
Marshall McLuhan. His work on Renaissance rhetoric earned him 
the presidency of the Modern Language Association, amid several 
other honors. Ong taught at Saint Louis University for thirty-six 
years, and died in 2003, after seeing his books translated into numer- 
ous languages. 

II. Dealing with Pluralism 

Camelot, the Council, and Beyond 

John Courtney Murray appeared on the cover of Time on 
December 12, 1960, about a month after John Kennedy had been 
elected to the presidency of the United States. Murray's renown 
rested on his capacity to persuade Catholics and non-Catholics alike 
that religious tolerance and political pluralism were acceptable and 
even praiseworthy in the eyes of a tradition not remarkable for 

It is instructive to contrast the fortunes of Gracian with the tumultuous life 
of his longer-lived near contemporary, the Portuguese-Brazilian Jesuit Ant6nio Vieira 
(1608-97), who almost certainly knew of his Spanish peer. A respected diplomat, 
Vieira gained fame as a preacher. His two-hundred-odd sermons are part of the 
canon of Luso-Brazilian literature. See Sermoes, ed. Jose Barbosa Machado (Lisbon: 
Dom Quixote, 2003). 

8 ♦ Peter McDonough 

promoting either. The urbane Murray bore himself with the aplomb 
of a celebrity intellectual. "He entered a room/' a Jesuit colleague 
recalled, "like an ocean liner." 6 The aura surrounding Murray contin- 
ued to grow through the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), where 
his advocacy of "the American proposition" was ratified in the 
Declaration on Religious Liberty. 

The eminence accorded Murray reflected the high point of the 
American century in Catholicism. An immigrant church had come of 
age. Educationally accomplished and economically successful, Ameri- 
can Catholics were reaching for intellectual respectability and the 
upper echelons of political power. The Camelot of the Kennedys 
coincided with the beginning of Vatican II. 

Even before Murray died in 1967, however, there were signs 
that fortress Catholicism was crumbling. The cultural revolution and 
the feminist movement were in full spate, and the gay-rights move- 
ment was just around the corner. Priests and nuns left religious life 
in droves. By the end of the century, Jesuits in India would outnum- 
ber their peers in the United States. Catholicism's demographic 
center of gravity shifted toward the South. 

The pluralist settlement that Murray propounded stayed in 
place but internally the American church was split by ideological 
quarrels and, with the dawn of the new millennium, by sexual 

scandal. Catholicism began to look 
"— — "^^^^~^~^^^~^^~ like a wobbly colossus. "Gentle- 
Confusion arose after Vatican men," Murray intoned on his re- 
II not only about what to do turn from Vatican II, "we have just 
but also about what to be, cleared the church's decks of cer- 

especially among the clergy. tain nineteenth-century business. 

We have not even begun to deal 
"^^^^^^~ — ^^ —— " — ■- with the issues of the twentieth 

century." 7 Murray seems to have 
been as worried about reforming the Church on the inside as about 
consolidating its opening toward the world. Whatever his intentions, 
Murray unlocked the floodgates to changes that overtook his vision 

Quoted in Peter McDonough, Men Astutely Trained: A History of the Jesuits in 
the American Century (New York: Free Press, 1992), 227. 

7 Peter McDonough, "On Hierarchies of Conflict and the Possibility of Civil 
Discourse: Variations on a Theme by John Courtney Murray," Journal of Church and 
State 36 (1994): 115. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? $ 9 

of reasoned debate among statesmanlike leaders. His legacy was 
ambiguous. The pluralism he espoused not only altered relations 
between church, state, and the larger society, toward greater toler- 
ance. It also opened Catholicism to rival currents within its own walls. 

Reaction or Accommodation? 

Murray is a transitional figure on the way to a more conten- 
tious Catholicism. His contribution was seminal but incomplete, and 
it is this incompleteness that had made his thinking so fertile. Plural- 
ism hinged on discussion, and discussion was open-ended. Murray 
had a visceral distaste for "maximalism," "absolutism/ and the like 
that was on a par with his disdain for do-your-own-thing relativism. 
The difficulty is that it can be easier to pinpoint his dislikes than to 
frame his vision thing in a positive sense. 

Murray was a minimalist, a Republican, when it came to 
political action. The stance jibed with his view that any attempt on 
the part of government to enforce religious beliefs would be counter- 
productive. Much the same reluctance and suspicion held for 
Church-sponsored politics. Murray's rule-of-thumb, that the Church 
should keep a modest political profile as part of the pluralist trade- 
off, borders on a benign neglect theorem that did not sit well with 
Catholics of a world-changing bent. He can be read, with some 
ingenuity, as the brains behind the slide toward a "naked public 
square/' the secular forum that enforces a gag rule against religion. 8 
Murray said hardly anything about what believers actually should do 
with their fresh understanding of freedom. His procedural focus left 
some Catholics searching for worthy tasks with tangible results in 
the here and now. It was this vacuum that the faith-and-justice 
movement, not just the Berrigans, sought to fill. 

Confusion arose after Vatican II not only about what to do but 
also about what to be, especially among the clergy. The problem 
went beyond the denominational identity of Catholics in the dawn- 
ing ecumenical age. As Walter Ong indicated, the irenic turn upset 
the preeminence of the Church Militant over the Church Maternal. 
It also undermined clear-cut understandings about clerical sexuality 
and identity. The crisis of the celibate male priesthood could not be 


Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in 
America (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1984). 

10 <v> Peter McDonough 

solved by busy work or social action. It was more a crisis of purpose 
than of performance or efficiency. 

Radicalism Left and Right 

Two of the changes that followed in Murray's wake, along 
with one feature of Catholicism that has endured in the midst of 
them, are of special interest. The first change is the social radicalism 
that flourished in the sixties and seventies under the aegis of figures 
like Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers. This was a break not 
only from the civil give-and-take favored by Murray but from much 
of the papal social thought that had developed in response to the 
mass politics of industrialization. 

Vestiges of what came to be called a preferential option for the 
poor drew on encyclicals from the 1890s and 1930s, and the pastoral 
letters issued by the American bishops during the eighties on the 
economy and war had roots in the encyclicals issued by John XXIII 
and Paul VI in the 1960s. But in the euphoria immediately following 
Vatican II, the Catholic Left dropped most of the talk of class recon- 
ciliation and took its cues from the in-your-face tactics of Saul Alin- 
sky, Stokely Carmichael, and Tom Hayden. 9 These were the days of 
the Catonsville Nine and the Chicago Seven. Now that the Counter- 
Reformation was over, some of the ardor that had burned in the old 
Church Militant seems to have migrated toward a zeal for social 
action, a zest for symbolic bearing of witness, and political theater. 
All this went beyond the decorous combat promoted by Murray, 
toward the advocacy of social revolution. 10 

A second offshoot of the changes associated with Murray also 
bears on the question of radicalism but without tying it to the left or 
right. The direction of opinion, left or right, is one thing; the inten- 
sity with which beliefs are held is another. 

During the sixties and on into the mid-seventies, stridency — 
indeed, a certain fanaticism — was identified with the left. In the 


Bernard Doering, ed., The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of 
Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 
1994), and R. David Finks, The Radical Vision of Saul Alinsky (New York: Paulist Press, 1984). 

James Colaianni, The Catholic Left: The Crisis of Radicalism within the Church 
(Philadelphia: Chilton, 1968), and Garry Wills, Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy, and 
Radical Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972). 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -& 11 

eighties, this edginess came undone among progressives. Many on 
the left burned out or retreated into a therapeutic, semi-privatized 
spirituality. 11 Their new-found ambivalence was taken for relativism, 
dithering, or intellectual bankruptcy. A few disillusioned leftists 
wound up converting to the enemy. Polarization was back, louder 
than ever, but most of the commotion now seemed to come from 
the right. This turnaround persisted in Catholicism until the first 
decade of the new millennium, when the sexual abuse scandals re- 
energized progressives. 

The shifting connection between the substance or direction of 
beliefs — their left/rightness — and how strongly they are held con- 
firms the lesson that extremism is not confined to one side or the 
other of the ideological spectrum. The shift is also rooted in a histori- 
cal transformation. From the sixties on, lifestyle issues heated up. 
Conflict over cultural values displaced the end of ideology and 
economic complacency that were supposed to arrive with affluence. 12 
However this might be, the split between agonistic and irenic styles 
of being Catholic runs deeper than temperamental differences. It 
evokes an abiding partition be- 
tween the Church Militant, in ^ ~~ 
whose view error has no rights, Observations about changing 
and the Church Maternal, more ideological styles in 

indulgent toward dissenters and Catholicism are not 

ecumenical toward nonbelievers. stand-alone hypotheses; 

What's more, there is a pow- they open up a lane 

erful link in Catholic tradition be- to the land of sexuality. 

tween these sensibilities and defi- 
nitions of masculinity and femi- 
ninity. Observations about changing ideological styles in Catholicism 
are not stand-alone hypotheses; they open up a lane to the land of 
sexuality. The connection between historically contingent customs 
(male celibacy as a requirement for ordination being the most obvi- 
ous) and the primal moorings of gender makes it difficult to disen- 
tangle issues of institutional reform from cultural upheaval in 
Church. Sex has been the boiler room of Catholicism, whatever 
course the organization happens to be steered in. 

See Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). 


Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and 
Political Change in 43 Societies (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997). 

12 <$> Peter McDonough 

Standards of tolerance for political and religious differences, 
commitment to ideals of social justice, the affinity for a more aggres- 
sive or a less doctrinaire adherence to beliefs, the link between 
authority and sexual identity — all these are norms about how Catho- 
lics should behave. They are prescriptive rather than purely objective 

The same normative updraft cannot be said to hold, at least 
not in a conventional sense, for a third current in Catholicism. This 
consists of a stock of hardball precepts about survival and getting 
one's way in a dangerous world. The lore is one of realpolitik. It 
pulses, a perennial if mostly unspoken truth, through the institu- 
tional wisdom of Catholicism. Its practitioners are more calculating 

and manipulative, even ruthless, 

than the genial padres of The Bells 

[Gracian's] perspective of Saint Mary's and Going My 

accords nicely with the Way. 13 

Brazilian proverb that the Calling the operational code 

wiles of a Machiavelli are a theory is a stretch. Little in this 

preferable to the brutality of way of thinking is systematic or 

an Attila or the zealotry of a written down, and much of it is 

religious fanatic. unabashedly cynical. Bits and 

pieces were codified, however, by 
Baltasar Gracian, whose Art of 
War-type handbooks became New York Times bestsellers during the 
boom years of the 1990s. 14 Gracian's bleak, unapologetic realism 
throws light on the nuts and bolts of one-upmanship and self- 
preservation in an environment where the only rules seem to be 
those of caprice. 

The worldliness of Gracian is not wholly unscrupulous. His 
perspective accords nicely with the Brazilian proverb that the wiles 
of a Machiavelli are preferable to the brutality of an Attila or the 
zealotry of a religious fanatic. Careers may be ruined but few people 
actually get killed. In this respect, Gracian is a moralist of the via 
media. And while many of his recommendations instruct those in 
positions of leadership about how to outdo their rivals and keep 

13 Wilfrid Sheed, Three Mobs: Labor, Church, and Mafia (New York: Sheed and 
Ward, 1974). 

See, for example, Baltasar Gracian, A Pocket Mirror for Heroes, trans. 
Christopher Maurer (New York: Doubleday, 1996). 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? ^ 13 

their subordinates in line, some of Gracian's tips are designed as aids 
for those trying to defend themselves against the whims of the 
powerful. In modern parlance Gracian looks like something of a 
passive-aggressive, and it is this slant that makes him an astute 
diagnostician of politics, ecclesiastical and otherwise. The world for 
Gracian is an irredeemably authoritarian hierarchy that is best dealt 
with not by clamoring for change but through caution and cunning, 
with the guile of a courtier. 

Church and State in the Secular City 

"The church is a whore," Daniel Berrigan once declared, "but 
she is my mother." While reforming the internal workings of Cathol- 
icism was not at the top of John Courtney Murray's agenda, rational- 
izing the Church around the edges was a logical extension of his 
efforts to bring it into the modern world. Some on the Catholic left, 
like Berrigan, were both more radical and more conservative than 
Murray. Their radicalism was founded on a repudiation of the 
military-industrial complex and social injustice that Murray's focus 
on church-state relations ignored. The notion that the Church 
exercised only a "spiritual jurisdiction" in capitalist democracies was 
anathema to many Catholic activists bent on righting social wrongs. 15 
The perspective, defended by Murray, of a Church largely above the 
political fray sounded like a cop-out from involvement in the secular 
city. For his part, Berrigan insisted that concern with intramural, 
churchy disputes was a distraction from efforts at changing the 
world. "Roman Catholic identity as such is unimportant," he told his 
friend Robert Coles, "given the times and the real issues." "My 
brother and I have no continuing interest whatsoever in what you 
might call the internal questions of the Catholic community, whether 
that be the question of parochial schools or the question of birth 
control or the question of celibacy; we look upon such matters as in 
essence retarded questions." 16 

Eugene McCarraher, Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern 
American Social Thought (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), 108. 

Daniel Berrigan, Poetry, Drama, Prose, ed. Michael True (Maryknoll, N.Y.: 
Orbis Books, 1988), from "Inside and Outside the Church," New York Review of Books 
(April 8, 1971), 71. 

14 ^ Peter McDonough 

The priority given to social and political change seemed to 
have a couple of advantages. It helped keep Berrigan out of trouble 
with his religious superiors — with the major exception of his tempo- 
rary exile to Latin America at the behest of Cardinal Spellman for his 
opposition to the war in Vietnam. On the whole, Berrigan stayed 
clear of church politics. He ignored ecclesiastical infighting, and 
ecclesiastical power holders learned to ignore him. 

Second, at least in principle, the outward-looking strategy had 
ecumenical and secular appeal. 'The most exciting aspect of the 
Second Vatican Council/' John McGreevy has written about Catholic 
progressives who, though critical of Berrigan in several respects, 

were influenced by him, "was the 
realization that the church now 
But [Berrigan] did not called them to shape and engage 

manage to connect their own societies, not simply 

condemnation of the Vietnam fortify Catholic subcultures within 
War with American values in them/' 17 
the same way that King 

justified racial emancipation The celebrity of the Catholic 

with reference to the bedrock left P roved fleetin S' The Vietnam 
American tenet of equality of War was over b V 1975 - ¥i ^ res like 
opportunity. Berrigan engaged in a high-wire 

act without a net. There were no 
^™^™^^™^^^^^™^^^"^~ right-hand men with organiza- 
tional savvy, no Andrew Youngs 
or Ralph Abernathys, to keep the troops marching when the leaders 
went to jail. The heroic politics of the Berrigans drew heavy penal- 
ties but, except for a handful of "professional prisoners," few long- 
term supporters. 18 The uncompromising dedication that drove the 
Berrigans also raised questions about tolerance and political tactics. 
The "sacred register of politics" alienated middle-of-the-roaders and 
placed severe demands on adherents. 19 


John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W. 

W. Norton, 2003), 283 

Murray Poll 
and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan (New York: Basic Books, 1997). 


Jason C. Bivins, The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antii 
Challenge of American Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003) 


Murray Polner and Jim O'Grady, Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives 
Jason C. Bivins, The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antiliberalism and the 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? & 15 

Like Martin Luther King, Berrigan invoked biblical imagery 
and values for a political cause. But he did not manage to connect 
condemnation of the Vietnam War with American values in the 
same way that King justified racial emancipation with reference to 
the bedrock American tenet of equality of opportunity. King did not 
want to overthrow the system, at least not in the early days of the 
civil-rights movement; he wanted to take part in it. 20 The difference 
was crucial. The problem facing Catholic radicals concerned not only 
the legitimacy of infusing politics with religious sentiment. They had 
to demonstrate that their religious message did not subvert the 
American creed. Murray's minimalist formula, that Catholicism and 
democracy could coexist, gained acceptance. For some this meant 
that religion was tolerable in the secular sphere as long as it was 
politically innocuous. The idea that, armed by religious dictates, 
militants might sit in judgment on the American system was a much 
tougher sell. 

Romantic Anger, Intellectual Clarity, and Gender Roles 

Whatever the effectiveness of their dramaturgy, the Berrigan 
brothers amplified the repertoire of protest. Their legacy of bearing 
witness against the odds crops up from time to time within the 
Church — decades later, for example, in the sit-ins against parish 
closings in the Boston Archdiocese and in the dogged picketing of 
cathedrals by members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused 
by Priests). 21 

Yet the Berrigans never rallied many Catholics in the pews. 
The challenge was conceptual and symbolic as well as practical. 
There was an antirationalist tenor to the actions of the Berrigans. It 
was unclear what alternative to injustice they offered, besides tearing 
it all down. 22 Later and to a limited extent, both of these deficien- 

Dennis Chong, Rational Lives: Norms and Values in Politics and Society 

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 


The tradition also appears to hold up with actions directed outside the 
Church. According to Mark Chaves, "Catholic congregations are more likely than 
others to engage in the direct action and pressure group politics of demonstrating, 
marching, and lobbying" (Congregations in America [Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 2004], 118). 

See Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist 

Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia, trans. Francis Haskell (New York: Grosset & 

16 ^ Peter McDonough 

cies — the antirationalism and the absence of options — were ad- 
dressed in the bishops' letters on war and the economy that ap- 
peared in the 1980s. 23 

Another difficulty can be traced to shifts and uncertainties in 
the expressive habits and political language of Catholicism. After 
several decades of suffocating formalism induced by papal condem- 
nations of Americanism and Modernism, the Church was coming up 
for air, and the air was intoxicating. The pleasures of assimilation ran 
up against the traditional Catholic subculture. The ambivalence 
inherent in these cross-currents was captured by Walter Ong. A 
specialist in the Renaissance, Ong also brought with him a back- 
ground as a student of the hypermodern media guru Marshall 
McLuhan. He turned out to be a Renaissance man in the popular as 
well as the academic sense. 24 

The bright strand that runs through Ong's writing concerns 
the contrast between agonistic and irenic styles of discourse and 
behavior. 25 Ong associated the confrontational manner with an oral 
culture that, with the rise of print, he claimed was being displaced 
by a less assertive approach to dialogue. Like dueling, the fulmina- 
tions and bluster of old-line oratory had pretty much had their day. 
Catholicism saw this change come to a head in "the decrees of the 
Second Vatican Council [which], while often forthright and firm, lack 
the agonistic edge typical of many earlier church pronouncements/' 26 
For better or worse, "the development of the Roman Catholic ethos 
. . . has been that of a strongly masculinizing era, marked by . . . 

Dunlop, 1966), and Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance 
with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). 


J. Bryan Hehir et al., Liberty and Power: A Dialogue on Religion and U.S. 
Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), and Richard John 
Neuhaus and George Weigel, eds., Being Christian Today: An American Conversation 
(Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992). 

The flow of influence between McLuhan and Ong was reciprocal. McLuhan 
credited Ong's doctoral dissertation with giving him one of the insights (on oral 
versus visual thinking) that he went on to use to such effect in his media studies. 
Especially after publishing The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan wrote — allusively, 
cryptically — the way that Ong often spoke when he was in full speculative flight. 

See An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, ed. Thomas J. Farrell and 
Paul A. Soukup (Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 2002). 

Ong, Fighting for Life, 170. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? $ 17 

agonistic patterns (169)." The new condition was one of doctrinal, 
not to say sexual, ambiguity. 

Ong's scalpel is sharper for trends like the decline of Latin and 
the entrance of women into the academy than for political and 
economic issues. With the latter, studying events at a distance rather 
than at first hand, he tended to lapse into a myth-and-symbol 
exegesis of illustrative anecdotes. 

Nevertheless, Ong's diagnosis is ^^^^^^_^_^_^^^^^^_ 
consistent with the down-to-earth 

view that ecclesiastical incumbents The psychosexual building 

(and other power holders) were blocks of the institutional 

caught off guard by the eruption edifice of Catholicism 

of the sixties, when ideology was suddenly looked less solid. 

supposed to end. Romantic anger 

rather than intellectual clarity be- 
came the signature of the new left. As far as the Church was con- 
cerned, the polarities inherited from the Counter-Reformation were 
reversed. Now, in the uproarious sixties, to be on the left was to be 
militant, while Paul VI, borderline irresolute, presided over an 
establishment in flux. On one side it looked like a trahison des clercs, 
on the other like a failure of nerve. 

The situation was not confined to the Church. In his study of 
parliamentarians during the 1960s, Robert Putnam (who was to 
become known as the premier analyst of social capital) noted that 

a politician's perspective on social conflict and harmony is quite 
closely related to his ideological position in [the] left-right sense. 
Leftists stress conflict, rightists stress harmony, and centrists fall 
between. ... It is ... no accident that Burke, the great conservative, 
extolled social harmony, while Marx, the great revolutionary, stressed 
social cleavage. 27 

As in the Church, self-confident conservatives seem to have been 
transformed into mild-mannered paternalists, at a loss about how to 
react to a confrontational generation. Authority in general was at 
loose ends during the sixties. 

A reaction set in by the end of the seventies and the early 
eighties. Margaret Thatcher came to power, so did Ronald Reagan, 

Robert D. Putnam, The Beliefs of Politicians: Ideology, Conflict, and Democracy in 

Britain and Italy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 106 f. 

18 <$> Peter McDonough 

and John Paul II ascended to the papacy. But the ambiguities that 
Ong had isolated continued to resonate through the Church. The 
implication of his analysis was not just the fanciful-sounding idea 
that ideological styles were associated with oral or literate modes of 
thinking or that these tendencies were linked in turn to masculine or 
feminine orientations. The touchier point was that sexual identities 
themselves, like the political settlements analyzed by John Courtney 
Murray, revealed elements of historical contingency. 

The psychosexual building blocks of the institutional edifice of 
Catholicism suddenly looked less solid. "[A] male clergy," Ong 
wrote, "is basically not a characterizing feature of the Church so 
much as a countervailing feature [against an overwhelming feminin- 
ity rooted in Mariology, the cult of the pieta, etc.]/' 28 Ong drew back 
from exploring the import of his analysis for clerical homosexuality 
(the word scarcely appears in his publications), but the implications 
for sexual confusion and gender bending are clear enough. Age-old 
expressions of sexual identity that were once taken for granted 
might be culturally conditioned and subject to change. 

The premise of Ong's work is that, especially in the Catholic 
tradition, modes of discourse and domination are correlated with 
characteristically masculine (bullying) and feminine (nurturant) 
styles. His more novel contribution stems from the idea that the 
historical contingency of rhetorical mannerisms holds clues about the 
mutability of sexual identities. This variability threatens the authority 
structure of Catholicism. It is one thing to propose, as Murray did, 
that no political system is supreme in an ahistorical, Platonic sense. 
His critics claimed just the opposite when they talked of monarchy 
as a reflection of celestial hierarchy, of the Great Chain of Being. 
Murray could fall back on the almost equally venerable notion of 
"accidentalism," according to which political regimes are shallow 
epiphenomena (rather like Marxian superstructures) compared to the 
deeper workings of society and the abiding differences between 
male and female. This meant that the Church could live under 
practically any number of civil arrangements. 29 It was as much a 
culture as an institution. 

28 Ong, Fighting for Life, 178. 

' See William J. Callahan, The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1998 
(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 311. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? $> 19 

But it was quite another thing to suggest that the foundational 
pillars of authority inside Catholicism, its male-dominated structure 
of governance, were subject to the whims of history rather than 
divinely mandated or fixed underpinnings of natural law. At this 
juncture, not only the authority structure but also the sempiternal 
truths of the Church, related to issues like contraception, divorce, 
abortion, and the role of women, come into play. 

Ong was not an aberrant case. Murray himself understood 
that underneath the clash of ideologies lay barely enunciable ques- 
tions of sexual identity. He worried about "men of diminished 
manhood, of incomplete virility" whose rational capacities were 
underdeveloped because, as Aristotle had feared, they failed to 
master their feminine irrationality. They were not rigorously combat- 
ive. Here is Murray at full tilt, without any of the reservations Ong 
was to express a few decades later: 

"[I]t is woman who offers man the ' 

possibility of headship, of entering ff & kal gf Gmddn af 

into his native inheritance of . . , . 

. *■*..,. ir i i one moment to adopt a 
rule — of realizing himself as head, tJ _ T . r , 1 

r L . • • i r j you-can t-be-too-careful 

Logos, the principle of order, * . . , - J 

if • u u j ir i posture in praise of prudence 

which by ordering life rules it. r T / J r _ 

Woman is life, but not Logos, not "* f th ' next ^ment fly 

the principle of order. ... She is °ff the handle at the tasteless 
not her own ruler; man is to gov- and the ohtuse > that ts ' at 

ern her/' 30 In other words, sexual J ust about everybody. 

stratification is at the heart not ■^^___^^^^____ 
only of ecclesiastical hierarchy but 

of traditional social order. The originality of Ong was to sense that 
this was an order, desirable or otherwise, ideal or not, whose time 
was passing in Catholicism. It was beginning to look indefensible, 
the Old South of religion. It was a lost cause. The great difficulty 
was to discern what within Catholic tradition might take the place of 
this order. Murray's faith that civilized disputation could uncover 
solid truths on which reasonable men could eventually agree became 
shakier as he grew older. Ong's logic also led him away from the 
terra firma of received sexual categories and their solid social attrib- 


John Courtney Murray, S.J., "The Danger of the Vows: An Encounter with 
Earth, Woman, and Spirit," Woodstock Letters 96 (Fall 1997): 424. 

20 ^ Peter McDonough 

III. A Wily Voice from the Past 

Weathering the Storm on the Bark of Peter 

While the characteristic feature of Walter Ong's prose was a 
stripped-down clarity, he knew that clarity itself had its limitations. 
'The truly profound and meaningful principles and conclusions 
concerning matters of deep philosophical or cultural import/ 7 he 
argued, "are invariably aphoristic or gnomic, and paradoxical/' 31 
Many of the orphic sayings of Baltasar Gracian pass the obscurity 
test hands-down. The catch is that Gracian could be perfectly lucid 
about the uses of obscurity, and it is with this manipulative aware- 
ness that he strikes his defining note. "Don't express your ideas too 
clearly/' he recommends. 

Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what 
they do not. To be valued, things must be difficult: if they can't 
understand you, people will think more highly of you. Intelligent 
people value brains, but most people demand a certain elevation. 
Keep them guessing at your meaning. Many praise without being 
able to say why. They venerate anything hidden or mysterious, and 
they praise it because they hear it praised. 32 

None of this prevents Gracian from recommending elsewhere that 
you "express yourself clearly, not only easily but lucidly," qualifying 
the advice, with characteristic hauteur, with the observation that 
"sometimes it is good to be obscure, so as not to be vulgar" (122). It 
is typical of Gracian at one moment to adopt a you-can't-be-too- 
careful posture in praise of prudence and at the next moment fly off 
the handle at the tasteless and the obtuse, that is, at just about 

It is not just the pinball careening of Gracian's mots but their 
apparently amoral tenor that perplexes readers who come to him 
expecting uplift. Some of this befuddlement vanishes, however, once 
his books are understood as self-help manuals avant la lettre, with the 
accent on "self." Gracian is interested in power relationships but not 
in institutions, except tangentially. Organizations are always hierar- 
chical; this is an iron law. It is the kaleidoscopic cunning of human 

Ong, Fighting for Life, 31. 

32 Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A Pocket Oracle, trans. 
Christopher Maurer (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 143. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? & 21 

nature and how to manage it that intrigues Gracian. "What Machia- 
velli said of the politician/ , Schopenhauer observed admiringly, 
"Gracian said of the individual/' 33 The overriding idea is personal 
survival and, more than this, the winning of esteem and influence in 
a treacherous world. Life is a militia contra malicia, a war against the 
scheming of others. Man is a wolf to man, and the only help for it is 
prudence and guile. For Gracian as for Hobbes, his contemporary, 
life was a war of all against all. 

This pessimism, together with a courtier's distaste for the 
multitude, sometimes leads Gracian to favor truly ruthless strata- 
gems. "With all his interest in man," Aubrey Bell noted, "there is 
something a little cold, abstract, and inhuman in his flashing epi- 
grams and paradoxes." 34 Gracian's is a harsh realm of winners and 
losers whose standing, moreover, is constantly in motion and there- 
fore hard to predict. Herein lies the game. "Know the fortunate in 
order to choose them, and the unfortunate in order to flee from 
them. . . . The trick is to know what cards to get rid of." Or again: 

Don't let your sympathy for the unfortunate make you one of them. 
. . . Who could call himself lucky if many others weren't? . . . The 
person whom everyone hated in prosperity is suddenly pitied by all. 
His downfall turns vengeance into compassion. It takes shrewdness 
to notice how the cards are being dealt. They pull up beside the 
unlucky soul whom they fled when he was fortunate. Sometimes 
this reveals an inner nobility, but it is anything but shrewd. 35 

Two things stand out here, besides the pitiless recommendation to 
shun the weak and the defeated. One is the assumption of a zero- 
sum world. Gracian lived in a steeply divided class society. "The 
world of the limited good" is fixed. But the other assumption is that, 
while hierarchy abides, life is full of unforeseeable ups and downs. It 
is fluid and brutal. 

Gracian's deep appreciation of uncertainty is one of the things 
that make him sound modern despite the premodern setting of his 
thought. But it is not only that. After all, human mortality and the 
vanity of things are themes with an ancient lineage. Two other 


Quoted by Thomas G. Corvan in The Best of Gracian, ed. Thomas G. Corvan 
(New York: Philosophical Library, 1964), i. 

Aubrey F. G. Bell, Baltasar Gracian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921), 71. 

35 Gracian, Art of Worldly Wisdom, 18, 92 f. 

22 ^ Peter McDonough 

quirks add to Gracian's contemporary appeal. One is his stylistic 
jumpiness. Generalizations, universal laws, and the like are suspect, 
and this suspicion comes across in the spasmodic presentation of his 
maxims. The aphorisms ricochet haphazardly off one another. 

The ad hoc nature of Gracian's advice mirrors the way he sees 
reality. Whatever coherence he possesses — and it may be very little, 

to judge by the references of crit- 
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ics to the "three hundred ill-ar- 
ranged maxims" of his Pocket Ora- 
The irony is that the c i 6/ that "most confusing and diffi- 

frankness of Gracian's pithy cu lt work in the Spanish lan- 

recommendations stands in guage" — is tactical. 36 Besides his 

the service of deception. rapid-fire delivery, it is the mor- 

dant candor of Gracian that ingra- 
tiates him to the modern temper. 
Reading Gracian is a bit like dipping into Catullus, full of ellipses 
and jump cuts, after long exposure to the impeccably graceful 
Horace. "One cannot blindly follow the rules. A zigzag course is 
advisable." 37 

The irony is that the frankness of Gracian's pithy recommen- 
dations stands in the service of deception. Prudence and the polish- 
ing of appearances become key stratagems. Gracian is not a nihilist. 
He never quite gives up on the attainment of virtue, even sainthood, 
as an ultimate goal. But, as a practical matter, "prudence guides one 
not to the fixed principles of virtue but rather to the different goals 
of winning one's way." 38 There are no rules except caution and 
deception. Nonbinding resolutions, moral victories, and the like are 
gestures that do not matter. In the end, as with Vince Lombardi, 
winning is the only thing. "Take care to make things turn out well." 
"A winner is never asked for explanations. More people pay atten- 
tion to success or failure than to circumstances, and your reputation 


Cited by Bell in Baltasar Gracian, 28 f . 

37 Gracian as quoted by Michael Nerlich, "Gracian in the Death Cell," in 
Rhetoric and Politics: Baltasar Gracian and the New World Order, ed. Nicholas Spadaccini 
and Jenaro Talens (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 324. 

Monroe Z. Hafter, Gracian and Perfection: Spanish Moralists of the Seventeenth 
Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), 93. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -0* 23 

will never suffer if you achieve what you wanted to. A good ending 
turns everything golden, however unsatisfactory the means/ 739 

How does this differ from the stratagems of a Machiavelli 
(whom Gracian affected to despise, along with Cervantes)? Most of 
Gracian's writings are not about statecraft and only some of his 
maxims are directed exclusively at the powerful. A good many are 
offered to readers in competitive settings, whether they are in fear of 
falling from the top or afraid of being trampled by the high and 
mighty. 40 "Make people depend on you," Gracian recommends. He 
elaborates the point for anyone along the social ladder. 

He who is truly shrewd would rather have people need him than 
thank him. . . . When there is no longer dependence, good manners 
disappear, and so does esteem. The most important lesson experi- 
ence teaches is to maintain dependence, and entertain it without 
satisfying it. This can hold even a king. 41 

The same strategic discretion, the same keen eye for the quid pro 
quo, appear over and over, as in the maxim "Don't outshine your 
boss. . . . Princes like to be helped, but not surpassed. When you 
counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of some- 
thing he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see" (4). It 
is important to select which battles to fight and which to pass up. 
Speaking truth to power and whistle blowing are counterproductive. 
"Rowing against the current makes it impossible to discover the 
truth and is extremely dangerous. . . . Dissent is taken as an insult, 
for it condemns the judgment of others. . . . The sensible person 
avoids both being contradicted and contradicting others. He may be 
quick to censure, but he is slow to do so in public" (24 f). 

Gracian is evidently not a reformer or (at least in his writings 
if not in his troubled career) a rocker of boats. His discretion is so 
instrumental it can give prudence (Gracian's summum bonum among 
the virtues) a bad name. "Some people," he observes, "are better at 
disturbing than adorning the universe: useless trinkets shunned by 
all. The discreet person should avoid tiring others, especially the 


Gracian, Art of Worldly Wisdom, 37. 

See Umberto Eco, "Les Signes du pouvoir," introduction to Breviare des 
politiciens, by Cardinal Mazarin, trans. Francois Rossi (Paris: Arleu, 1997), 7-12. 


Gracian, Art of Worldly Wisdom, 3. 

24 ^ Peter McDonough 

great, who are very busy. It would be worse to irritate one of them 
than the rest of the world" (58). 

In the end Gracian's cynicism is catholic, applying to those in 
and out of favor. He understands the anxieties of those, like himself, 
on the fringes of power. He is an elitist and a snob, and he repeat- 
edly denounces what readers centuries later would call democratic 

cravings. He never romanticizes 
■i-i— — — — ^^— ^— the downtrodden. But he also has 
Actors without ambitions to an aversion for pious nostrums. 
martyrdom, without an He was a wit and a piece of work, 

attraction to the monastic a fatalist who was insufficiently 

life, and without recourse to solemn. 42 

mechanisms for righting The shock that Gracidn ini . 

wrongs have few options but tially produces amounts to a kind 
to cultivate deceptive of prurien t surprise, as if the read- 

stratagems and extreme er has overheard a man of the 

prudence. cloth swearing like a trooper. This 

^^_^^^^^_^^^^^^^^_ potential for scandal is one of the 

things, along with his habit of 
publishing without asking their permission, that bothered his Jesuit 
superiors and that drove them in the end to put Gracian under a 
form of house arrest. 43 But the problem cuts deeper than off-the- 
record table talk. Gracian does not so much describe or satirize the 
mores of seventeenth-century Spain as endorse a distillation of them. 
Almost always, he stands at the nether end of the "what Jesus 
would do" scale. Nietzsche was a fan. 

The realism that Gracian espouses has a plausible rationale, 
given the combination of perpetual hierarchy and uncertainty he 
assumes. Actors without ambitions to martyrdom, without an attrac- 
tion to the monastic life, and without recourse to mechanisms for 
righting wrongs have few options but to cultivate deceptive strata- 

Arturo Zarate Ruiz, Gracian, Wit, and the Baroque Age (New York: Peter Lang, 
1996). This habit got Gracian into so much trouble that he petitioned to leave the 
Jesuits and join the Cistercians. He died before the process was brought to a close. 

Miguel Batllori, S.J., Gracian y el Barroco (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e 
Letteratura, 1958), and Virginia Ramos Foster, Baltasar Gracian (Boston: Twayne, 1975), 
14 passim. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -$- 25 

gems and extreme prudence. 44 The goal is not the fantasy of holding 
the powerful to account but of defending oneself from and working 
around them. If structural reform is unthinkable, then the sensible 
course is low-profile accommodation, ingratiation, and circumspect 
resistance. The corollary rule is to exploit the weaknesses of others to 
one's own advantage. In this way, the culture of hierarchy, of 'Tittle 
monarchies/ 7 reproduces itself on down the pyramid. Gracian's 
conservatism is such that, even were hierarchy relaxed a bit, the 
pragmatic tactic is almost always indirection and expedience rather 
than confrontation or holy innocence. "Two kinds of people are 
good at foreseeing danger/' he writes, "those who have learned at 
their own expense and the clever people who learn a good deal at 
the expense of others. . . . Don't be so good that you give others the 
chance to be bad. Be part serpent and part dove/' 45 

So, the via media recommended by Gracian, despicable as it 
seems in democratic hindsight, may be benign in an unalterably 
authoritarian world. If the inverse of hierarchy is not a fanciful 
democracy but anarchy, a world turned upside down, then strong 
doses of guile and caution may help preserve the peace. Violence 
may be avoided, though not much else improves. 

Appearances and Substance 

Part of Gracian's fascination stems from a reckless forthright- 
ness that, contrary to his own advice, speaks truth to power. He 
lauds prudence from the viewpoint of the accident prone. He wor- 
ships discretion as he does virtue, from afar. 

This disconnect is a tip-off to Gracian's appeal. He is like the 
politician whose only ideology is the budget. You can prune off his 
occasionally vicious recommendations, as you might ignore one or 
another pious excess in a devotional manual, put his fatalism on 
hold, and come up with a serviceable, ideologically agnostic vade 
mecum to the ways of politics. But the accent is less on pragmatism 
as Americans might understand it — as a mandate to cut the guff and 

See Albert O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), and James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak 
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). 

45 Gracian, Art of Worldly Wisdom, 137 f. 

26 <$> Peter McDonough 

get on with the task at hand — than on prudence and above all 
appearances and perception. 

Gracian felt that it was crucial to seem as well as to be. Artifice 
is not everything. It is a necessary if insufficient condition for suc- 
cess. "Do, but also seem" is his motto. It is a good thing that virtue is 
its own reward, because in its "intrinsic" state it has few others. 
Gracian goes on to elaborate the maxim in typically acidic fashion. 

Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. To 
excel and to know how to show it is to excel twice. What is invisible 
might as well not exist. Reason itself is not venerated when it does 
not wear a reasonable face. Those easily duped outnumber the 
prudent. Deceit reigns, and things are judged from without, and are 
seldom what they seem. A fine exterior is the best recommendation 
of inner perfection. (73) 

Gracian is full of ironies. The greatest irony is that in setting 
aside religious precepts, his corrosive realism consecrates a split-level 
spirituality, cut off from mundane life. "Gracian seeks to assist his 
readers toward success," one commentator remarks. 

This is only possible through cunning, the pugnacious and pragmatic 
relinquishment of action according to Christian notions of morality. 
. . . [T]he product of appearance ... is accorded greater significance 
than action according to the outcome of ethically motivated 
veracity. 46 

There is something of the broken-hearted idealist in Gracian. This 
lends a bitter piquancy to his preaching about an ethic without 
illusions. It is as if traditional morality was something he could no 
longer believe in but could not quite forget. 

The final irony is that Gracian was done in not by any doc- 
trinal transgression but by the religious equivalent of reasons of 
state. What passed for savoir-faire in court circles and elegance 
among his literary friends struck Gracian's superiors as slick and 
flippant. Some of his works were received as satires on religious as 
well as political life. They read like the opposite of "edifying letters." 
Gracian slapped together a devotional handbook for communicants 
that did nothing to appease his adversaries. Those "frivolous books 
that speak badly of our profession" continued to grate. This judg- 
ment, plus bad timing, did him in. The publication of Gracian's last 

^Michael Nerlich, "Gracian in the Death Cell," 318 f. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? •$• 27 

book, El criticon, in 1656-57 coincided with the appearance of Pascal's 
Lettres provinciales. Condemnations of casuistry and trickery filled the 
air. The Society decided it had enough bad press on its hands, and 
Gracian was silenced as "a necessary measure and just defense of 
Ours/' 47 

Religion to Worldly Wisdom 

Gracian's work applies mainly to situations in which individu- 
als — middle managers, for example, under a bullying boss — cannot 
organize in their own defense and where support groups are weak. 
Talk of fair play sounds alien and naively self-destructive. This 
covers an enormous amount of ground. Some of the amplest docu- 
mentation of the syndrome bears on the ethically challenged deni- 
zens of the entertainment industry. And the practice of democratic 
politics hardly rules out subterfuge, betrayal, and generally doing 
the right (or wrong) thing for the wrong reasons. 48 

The resemblance between the ethos captured by Gracian and 
aspects of clerical culture, where a prevalent norm is to play things 
close to the vest and where wiggle room for public conflict is very 
limited, is not farfetched. Gracian almost never wrote directly about 
church affairs. But his approach serves as a corrective to mystified 
renditions of religious life. Gracian's realist perspective offsets ideal- 
ized accounts of ecclesiastical politics. It rings true as a diagnostic of 
the culture of Romanita, and it stands as a caveat emptor for those 
working the salons and corridors of power. His own obsession with 
keeping up la bella figura is a sign of the pathology. 

But the stance is not particularly sensitive to the tortured mix 
of pluralist and traditional sympathies found in Murray or to the 

E. Correa Calderon, Baltasar Gracian: Su vida y su obra, 2nd. ed. (Madrid: 
Editorial Gredes, 1970), 84-109. For "frivolous . . ." the Spanish is "alguns libros poco 
graves, y que desdicen mucho de nuestra profesion." For "a necessary . . ." the 
Spanish is "es medio necessario y justa defensa de nuestra Compania. . . ." In 
Gracian's entry in the Jesuit Historical Dictionary, Miguel Batllori argues that he died 
reconciled with the Society. See Diccionario Historico de la Compania de Jesus, eds. 
Charles E. O'Neill and Joaquin Maria Dominguez, vol. 2 (Rome: Institutum 
Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2001), s.w. "Gracian y Morales." 


Laurence Whitehead, "Bowling in the Bronx: The Uncivil Interstices 
between Civil and Political Society," in Civil Society in Democratization, ed. Peter 
Burnell and Peter Calvert (London: Frank Cass, 2004). 

28 <$> Peter McDonough 

symbolic reverberations one encounters in Ong. These, too, are 
important currents in the Catholic legacy. Only self-interest, not 
ideas, counts for Gracian. His focus is on the material world and the 
maneuvering of individuals in it. Casting a cold light on the gap 
between rhetoric and reality is Grecian's strong point. His eccentric, 
disenchanted eye is less acute when the gap is between competing 
discourses or ways of framing reality — in other words, between rival 

What, then, is left of the religious in Gracian? Not much. His 
first book was entitled 'The Hero/' and his last "The Critic." His 

work vibrates like a tuning fork 
^^^^^^^^_^^^^^^^^_ between a moralizing impulse and 

relentless cynicism. It is often just 
Gracian strips rhetorical a bout impossible to distinguish 
maneuvering of almost all of encomium from satire. His reli- 
its religious connotations. gious critics thought the satirical 
element was scandalous enough, 

possibly because it was unthink- 
able to admit (although they eventually did) that Gracian was 
actually holding up the machinations of the mighty and the subter- 
fuges of the powerless to praise. Either way, he was unsound. 

So there seem to be only trace elements of the conventionally 
religious in Gracian — except for the pervasiveness of the agonistic 
theme. "Passive-aggressive" is psychological language for the strug- 
gle between irenic subtlety and agonistic cut and thrust. This tension 
was to be handled through rhetorical skill. Rhetoric as a weapon to 
be deployed in contention with the wayward was integral to the 
Catholicism of the time. There is a whiff of stereotyping in the 
military imagery, but Spadaccini and Talens get it mostly right in the 
introduction to their edited volume on Gracian. 

As an army, [the Jesuit order] had to deal with masses and individu- 
als. For the masses, there were missionaries and preachers; for the 
individual, there were education and confessors. All . . . had to 
address the conquered with the subtlest weapon they could find: the 
word. Thus, rhetoric is the glue that binds together the entire enter- 



Nicholas Spadaccini and Jenaro Talens, "Introduction: The Practice of 
Worldly Wisdom/' in Hirschman, Rhetoric and Politics, xxii. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -0- 29 

Gracian strips rhetorical maneuvering of almost all its religious 
connotations. Rhetorical finesse is bound neither to the defense nor 
the overthrow of an institution but to the bildung of the individual. 
He "wanted to help people cope with the rules of an established 
social order that they do not want to transform but that, in any case, 
they seek to take advantage of." He is dialogical but supremely 
instrumental, out to win. 50 "Life is a battlefield," Nerlich notes, 
repeating Gracian's mantra (and echoing Murray) "from which there 
can be no flight into idyllic fields; rather it is one on which man 
must develop into a persona." 51 

Then, after praising his 

"emancipatory potential" — Gracian — — — — — — — — 

appears to be honest with the j onn Courtney Murray did 

reader even if he does not recom- not substantially alter the 

mend honesty as a policy— Nerlich separation between sacred 

presents an excerpt from a treatise md secular realms that 

written by Werner Krauss during Gracian espoused. The 

his months awaiting execution in a alternative, "integralism," 

Nazi prison. The passage makes a wa$ unworkMe in the 

direct connection between Gra- IT .. , . . , ,... 

., , t . , . ... United States ana a bitter 

cians machismo and the agonistic . p 

style. Stilted though it may be, the ^ " ' 

translation is worth quoting at . 


It is no accident that tension occupies such a basic position in Gra- 
cian's aesthetic. . . . Gracian's worldly wisdom reveals both a high 
point and an end. Already in one's first pass at his intellectual world 
one becomes . . . aware of the limits of worldly experience. The 
polarity of the sexes, the occurrence of the passions of love in no 
way partake in the construction of the masculine world of striving, 
of business, of fame, and accomplishment. This lesson of life creates a 
most striking contrast to the portrait of the human of the French 
moralists, which forms itself with the appropriate consideration of 
the female role as partner. The psychology of the sexes is not a topic 
with which Gracian busies himself. The existence of irrational powers 
in the conversational situation of man and woman was already 
integrated in seventeenth-century France, and the hopelessness of 


Ibid., xiii, and Carlos Hernandez-Sacristan, "The Art of Worldly Wisdom as 
an Ethics of Conversation," ibid., 301 passim. 

51 Nerlich, "Gracian in the Death Cell," 312. 

30 <$> Peter McDonough 

reasonable behavior was again . . . understood as a foundational 
Christian experience of the world. (340) 

We need not unpack everything going on here to recognize 
that Gracian had gone native. With the hindsight of twentieth- 
century psychoanalysis, he looks like a bad case of identification 
with the aggressor. How you played the game mattered to him. This 
was what rhetoric was about. But the game was also about keeping 
score. Gracian was a brilliant tourist dazzled by the refinement and 
cruelty of a world he observed but could not quite enter. 

A Permeable Wall of Separation 

John Courtney Murray did not substantially alter the separa- 
tion between sacred and secular realms that Gracian espoused. The 
alternative, "integralism," was unworkable in the United States and a 
bitter memory in Europe. It was very difficult to find a way around 
both confessional politics and rigid secularism. Murray argued, 
crucially, that the two cities, instead of being irrelevant to one 
another, might coexist to their mutual benefit. The result would be 
greater stability than if one tried to dominate the other. Murray 
made his peace with democracy. Compromise could promote civil 
order. The Church stood to lose by pressing for political dominion. 
Under modern conditions attempts to enforce a union of church and 
state were bound to backfire. 

Gracian also came to terms with the politics of his day. How- 
ever, he understood the absolutism of the Spanish monarchs more 
as a permanently Hobbesian state of nature than as an institutional 
format subject to change. Structural reform was simply not on his 
agenda. He recognized that absolutism creates the moral equivalent 
of an underground economy, and he treated these maneuvers as 
relatively humane stratagems for survival and success. "Obedesco pero 
no cumplo," the wisdom of the street went: "I obey but I don't com- 
ply." This was the bright side of Gracian. The dark side was a pessi- 
mism that gave no thought to altering the rules and in some cases 
ratified their severity. 

The trade-off Murray advocated involved scaling back on 
Catholicism's outmoded public ambitions. By the standards of twen- 
tieth-century industrial societies, these ambitions — of religious 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? & 31 

uniformity or something close to it — were perilously anachronistic. 52 
Exactly how much of a cutback this entailed he left indeterminate. 
Murray's studied equivocation endowed Catholic activists with 
alternatives regarding religion-driven politics that they continue to 
quarrel over. 

Two properties render many of these choices manageable in 
practice. For the most part, social justice issues involve controversies 
outside the Church. And secondly, they are likely to involve ques- 
tions of more versus less, not either/or. They require priority rank- 
ings rather than zero-sum decisions. The sectarian fires set by the 
Berrigans did not spread very far because most Americans believed 
economic policy was to be bargained over rather than treated as 
tinder for revolution. 

But the family of issues Walter Ong analyzed bear on matters 
of identity and "truth," not just 

interest or ideology. The questions ^ ^ ^^_ 
that such trends and controversies 

raise are hardly unique to the O'Malley took pains to set 
Church or the Society. Neverthe- tne distinction in a 
less, religious authorities find them comparative historical 
particularly threatening and diffi- context. He emphasized the 
cult to resolve. After much strug- peculiarly irenic nature of 
gle and consultation during the Vatican II, setting it against 
1980s, the Catholic bishops man- both the Gregorian reforms of 
aged to sign off on pastoral letters the thirteenth century and 
concerning the economy and war the Protestant break with the 
and peace. Yet they had to aban- Roman church. 
don efforts to draft an equivalent 
statement about the role of 
women. Issues like these were in- 
ternal, "neuralgic" affairs — "matters of revelation," according to 
conservatives, the intractable bedrock of Catholic dogma. 

Gracian saw the Spain of the Habsburgs as a microcosm of the 
way of the world. It was a majestic, sordid reality denning the 
human predicament, and it was no more about to change than the 
wisdom he culled from his beloved poets and philosophers of 


See Claudio Veliz, The Centralist Tradition in Latin America (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1980). 

32 <$> Peter McDonough 

Roman antiquity. A flexible pessimist regarding human nature, 
Gracian was a thoroughgoing fatalist regarding society. 

In the United States, Murray understood that he had to cope 
not just with a material reality. Catholics were also confronted with 
"the American proposition/ 7 a new idea or set of ideals and a social 
order radically different from that of the Old World. The country 
was the land of the redemptive second chance and perennial make- 
overs, where the sky is the limit, with an evangelical mission to 
sponsor democracy and sell its way of life around the world. Add to 
this a racial and ethnic diversity that surpasses anything seen in 
Rome during its heyday, and you have a particularly dramatic face- 
off between two powerful "isms." Catholicism's detente with democ- 
racy, especially its American variant, was uneasy. 

IV: Cultural Expressions with Sexual Overtones 

The Rhetoric of Reproach and the Embrace 
of the Temperate 

Classical Catholicism rested on an unchanging dichotomy. The 
hierarchical division of the sexes was the cornerstone of the institu- 
tional church, taken for granted by Baltasar Gracian, dissected by 
Walter Ong, and insisted on, with some fury, by the usually cool 
John Courtney Murray. The patriarchal family depicted the Church 
Militant in miniature. 53 "Dissect/' is the word for Ong's analysis. He 
performed a vivisection on a moribund culture. The operation was 
not hopeful. No painless remedy — no reform that preserved doc- 
trinal continuity — was in sight. 

A pair of conclusions came with the diagnosis. The polarity of the 
sexes turned out to be more fluid than categorical. Moreover, this 
fluidity was connected to an awareness that form — optional, histori- 
cally variable styles of expression and communication-shaped sub- 
stance — those supposedly objective realities like sex — as much as the 
other way around. Male and female were not just biologically given. 
They were also conditioned by and conveyed through customs that, 
while usually slow to move, varied over time and place. 

The locus classicus is Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of 
the History of an Idea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936). 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? ^ 33 

In 1983 Theological Studies published an article by John 
O'Malley entitled "Development, Reforms, and Two Great Reforma- 
tions/' Much of it restated Walter Ong's contrast between agonistic 
and irenic modes of dealing with conflict and change. This time 
O'Malley took pains to set the distinction in a comparative historical 
context. He emphasized the peculiarly irenic nature of Vatican II, 
setting it against both the Gregorian reforms of the thirteenth cen- 
tury and the Protestant break with the Roman church. The latter 
two were charged with ferocious rhetoric, intransigence, and extrem- 
ism. Vatican II stood out for its ecumenism and its embrace of the 
temperate. "The 'rhetoric of reproach,'" O'Malley observes, "is re- 
placed by a 'rhetoric of congratulation.' The stance is religiously 
admirable but rhetorically problematic, for it induces a vagueness 
and indeterminacy into language that deprives it of dramatic 
force." 54 

The article made a modest splash. But it was not until the 
publication a decade later of The First Jesuits that O'Malley reached a 
broader audience. Then, in 2004, Four Cultures of the West appeared. 
Here the spotlight is less on Ca- 
tholicism or the Jesuits than on — i^ -^^— ^^— 
the modes of understanding and Ifom dement f a i ters in the 
expression-the cultures and sen- w cuUure . . 

sibihties — that have shaped the ^ ., * * 

Church and the Society and that ,. .. v • • x 

., , . a j • L disputatious males give in to 

they have influenced in turn. r . . . , A , „ 

J conniving females — then the 

For O'Malley, the core of whole system goes into crisis. 
institutional Catholicism is no lon- 
ger strictly dichotomous, divided — — - —■-— - , — ^^— ^^— 
between male and female or, as he 

had put it in his Theological Studies piece, between agonistic 
(Counter-Reformation) and irenic (Vatican II) mindsets. Instead of a 
dichotomy, visualize a spectrum. It is on this imaginary line that 
O'Malley places four cultures. 

Two of these cultures, the prophetic and the humanistic, were 
present in O'Malley's original formulation. The first is all absolutes 
and certainties, all (or mostly all) argument by assertion, like Ong's 
agonism and Isaiah Berlin's hedgehog, who knows one big thing. It 

John W. O'Malley, "Development, Reforms, and Two Great Reformations: 
Towards a Historical Assessment of Vatican II," Theological Studies 44 (1983): 396. 

34 <0> Peter McDonough 

makes strong statements about vague or unprovable issues. The 
other resembles Berlin's fox, who knows many smaller things. Irenic 
culture is keen on complexity, ambiguity, and nuance. 55 Its roots lie 
in classical rhetoric and the arts of persuasion. The first brooks no 
doubts and demands strict allegiance. The second leans toward 

It is by unfolding this pair of sensibilities one at a time that 
O'Malley doubles the cultures to four. One of the newly specified 
genres is analytical. With much of the assertiveness of the purely 

prophetic, this type prizes impla- 
cably reasoned argument rather 
Both John Courtney Murray than outrage. It may take the form 
and Walter Ong saw the of logic-chopping philosophy or 
firmament of Catholicism in empirical science. It has roots in 
bipolar terms, split culturally medieval dialectics. The other cul- 
as well as biologically ^ XQ is an extension of the human- 
between male and female. istic - li is devotional-esthetic, me- 
diated through liturgy, through a 
^^^^^^^^— ^^^^^^^— ■ nonverbal art like music or dance, 

or a graphic art like painting. It 
traffics in the ineffable. Once in a while literature reaches these 
heights. A classic example is James Joyce's epiphanic short story, 
"The Dead." 

O'Malley makes no evolutionary claims for the classification — 
the cultures are not stages — and nowhere does he call the scheme a 
"typology" or label its components as scientific-sounding "para- 
digms." But there is a pattern to the cultures. As we move from 
"culture one" to "culture four," from the prophetic to the dialectic to 
the rhetorical to the esthetic-mystical, we travel roughly from the 
confrontational and activist toward the conciliatory and contempla- 
tive. It is like the stereotypical split between male and female, only 
now spread out along a continuum. 

O'Malley's world is less tidy and his vision more optimistic 
than Murray's or Ong's. If one element falters in the binary culture 
portrayed by Ong — if for example disputatious males give in to 
conniving females — then the whole system goes into crisis. The 
threat of collapse is less severe for O'Malley. The cultural portfolio of 

Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1953). 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? $ 35 

the West is diversified. Quarrelsome and barely compatible, his four 
^cultures are more like climatic zones than compartments. The 
diagnosis is one of fragile continuity and measured hope. 

A Question of Cultural Development 

Four Cultures of the West does not pose a question and answer 
it, or set a problem and solve it, or frame a hypothesis and test it, or 
state a puzzle and explain it. No tangible policy recommendations 
follow from it. At first glance, the implication of O'Malley's analysis 
appears to be straightforward: cultural multiplicity makes for a 
protective redundancy. This diversity almost certainly contributes to 
the resilience of the civilization — "The West" — whose constituent 
elements are (at least) four cultures. 

There is no politics or economics in Four Cultures, but there is 
some sex. O'Malley quotes a passage from Gueric of Igny's riff on the 
Song of Solomon, a love lyric, that abolishes the sexual demarcation 
at the core of agonistic struggle: 

In commenting on the verse from the Song, "Your two breasts are 
like two fawns" . . . [and] taking "the bridgegroom" of the text as 
usual as a coded designation for Christ, he says: "The Bridegroom 
himself has breasts better than wine. The Bridegroom, I say, has 
breasts, lest he should be lacking any one of all the duties and titles 
of loving kindness. He is father in virtue of creation or new birth 
that comes through grace, and also in virtue of the authority with 
which he instructs. He is mother, too, in the mildness of his affec- 
tions, and a nurse because he is so attentive to the care such a duty 
imposes." 56 

Elsewhere O'Malley comments on depictions of the nakedness of St. 
Francis and of the infant Jesus as cues toward mystical transport 
beyond eroticism and mere erudition, as allegories of release and 
reconciliation. The standard sexual categories are subsumed, like the 
agonistic dichotomy of male and female, by paroxysm and calm. 

By contrast, for all their literary and political sophistication, 
both John Courtney Murray and Walter Ong saw the firmament of 
Catholicism in bipolar terms, split culturally as well as biologically 
between male and female. They also saw that the underpinnings of 

John W. O'Malley, Four Cultures of the West (Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 2004), 147. Gueric, a Cistercian, was a colleague of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. 

36 ^ Peter McDonough 

this cosmology were in grave danger. A slide from authority to chaos 
in church affairs might come about just as readily as a soft landing 
toward moderation and compromise. "It is only the few/ Murray 
wrote, "who understand the disciplines of civility and thus hold in 
check the forces of barbarism that are always threatening to force the 
gates of the City." 57 Beneath the formal gardens of Catholicism lay 
an anarchic Eden. The pessimism of Murray and Ong was measured, 
but it was pessimism all the same. 

Gender by Nature or Culture? 

The tone of Four Cultures is equable, discursive, and matter-of- 
fact. O'Malley's term for what he does is "epideictic," a form of 
discourse that invites contemplation. It is the opposite of "apodictic," 
certainty-suffused proclamation. O'Malley does not exhort and he is 
not a problem solver in the accepted sense. Four Cultures has noth- 
ing directly to say about governance. 

This equanimity can be misleading. Four Cultures, though 
hopeful, is also unsettling for Catholicism. Murray and Ong saw the 
agonistic world on a simplified map, but it was better than no map 
at all, and it was capable, like an etching, of exquisite tonalities and 
variations. The longstanding practice of softening doctrinal severity 
with pastoral casuistry is the prime example of this. The map itself, 
like medieval mappemundi, was above all going somewhere, even if 
in fact all paths do not lead to Rome or Jerusalem. 

The comparative realism of Four Cultures breaks with this 
tradition. The expansion of two into four cultures is not just a 
heuristic curiosity. It gets O'Malley past the bipolar psychodynamics 
of Murray and Ong. When this fluid layout is put alongside 
O'Malley's discussion of the sexual echoes of art and mysticism, a 
significant alteration of traditional Catholic categories comes into 

The only place Ong and Murray could go with the agonistic 
hierarchy was toward equality between the sexes, and that route 
was blocked. Ong saw it coming, Murray wanted to keep things as 


John Courtney Murray, "America's Four Conspiracies/' in Religion in 
America, ed. John Cogley (Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian, 1958), 24. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? ^ 37 

they were, but neither felt he could do much about the impasse. The 
issue seemed doctrinally unmanageable. 

O'Malley skirts the question of sexual equality between male 
and female and explores instead questions of sexual identity. The 
treatment is understated and oblique. Cultural categories are fluid. 
At least, they are not entirely fixed, and the fuzzy differences be- 
tween them subvert the masculine and feminine stereotypes of the 
agonistic legacy even as the cultures reflect an underlying 
combative-contemplative continuum. 

Resources for Tolerance and Change 

It is possible to read O'Malley's analysis, and Ong's, too, as 
another exercise in grand abstraction. What's more, my presentation 
has exaggerated the schematic quality of their work. Any synopsis is 
bound to make these Jesuits look more like stick figures than we 
would like. 

On the other hand, it is clear that O'Malley and Ong, not to 
mention Murray and Gracian, delve into questions of sexuality and 
authority. They discern gendered archetypes beneath the talk about 
rhetorical strategies, and they suggest correspondences with patterns 
of power. 58 

Still, so what? I am reminded of a cartoon that appeared in the 
1950s in Punch, the defunct English periodical. It shows a lord 
reading the Times in a plush chair alongside the breakfast table, all 
plainly set in a cavernous manor house on the family estate. The 
lady of the manor is sipping tea. "My word!" his lordship, faintly 
astonished, exclaims. "It says here that the east wing burned down 
last night!" Catholicism is so big that a disaster here or a crisis there 
may have very sluggish and attenuated reverberations elsewhere. 

The problem with the work of O'Malley, Ong, and their 
colleagues is not that it is difficult but that it does not spell out 
programmatic directions. Best practices do not leap off the page. 
(The exception may be Gracian, whose "best practices" are a bit 


Peter McDonough, "Metamorphoses of the Jesuits: Sexual Identity, Gender 
Roles, and Hierarchy in Catholicism," Comparative Studies in Society and History (April, 
1990), 325-56. 

38 <$> Peter McDonough 

unsavory for some.) This is probably why most Jesuits ignored Ong's 
studies of agonistic and irenic rhetoric, and his occasional writings 
on Catholicism, when they appeared. 59 What do you do with them? 
My guess is that the same indeterminacy kept O'Malley's 1983 piece 
in Theological Studies from getting the attention it deserves. 

The judgment implies a strategic as well as intellectual ratio- 
nale. O'Malley et al. touch on combustible subjects. This invokes a 
primary rule of costs and benefits — too much to lose, too little to 
gain — that applies to religious as well as secular life. Gracian would 
understand perfectly. 

It could be that O'Malley et al. pinpoint trends so inexorable 
that you do not have to take any action. But this is like supposing 
that Catholicism is a tightly wound mechanism rather than the 
disjointed, baggy environment it is. Single-factor explanations are 
seldom anything other than reductionist, and the predictions based 
on them are equivalent to the expectations of cargo cults. Casting 
O'Malley et al. as templates for change would amount to a flight into 
identity politics. 

It is a truism that the sexual magisterium is the third rail of 
Catholicism. An equally serious problem may be that we have no 
models of change for established religions, including Catholicism. 

The silent embarrassment of the 
^~^~"^^^ — ^^^^^^~ ^ sociology of religion is that the 
[O'Malley] implies . . . that field still hangs on models devel- 

rhetorical, artistic, and oped about a century ago to ac- 

religious vehicles with fairly count for the rise and eventual 
clear erotic undercurrents are bureaucratization of religious 
shaped by cultural codes. movements, starting with charis- 

matic breakthroughs. We lack 
^^^^^^^^^—^^^^^^^™ comparable toolkits for the reverse 

phenomenon: the metamorphosis 
of bureaucratized religion into something less rigid, unless we 
assume that charismatic transitions are cyclically repeated. 60 There 


Walter J. Ong, American Catholic Crossroads (New York: Collier Books, 1958), 
The Barbarian Within (New York: Macmillan, 1962), and Frontiers in American 
Catholicism (New York: Macmillan, 1957). 

See, however, Roger Finke and Patricia Wittberg, "Organizational Revival 
from Within: Explaining Revivalism and Reform in the Roman Catholic Church," 
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39 (2000): 154-70. 

Clenched Fist or Open Palm? -& 39 

are no roadmaps to take us from here to there. The temptation is to 
give up on theory altogether and concentrate on Vaticanology. 

This being said, recall the notion of Catholicism as a layered 
composite of sexual-moral, social, and political tiers. We can dispense 
with the idea that changes at one level cascade over to the others 
and still recognize, for example, that O'Malley's repositioning of the 
debate over sexual equality toward sexual identity sends a few 
tremors percolating through the system. His contribution is elegiac 
as well as provocative, and this gives it resonance. The venerable 
agonistic/irenic idiom is extended rather than abandoned. Notice, 
too, that O'Malley is not primarily interested in suggesting that 
various types of cultural expressions have sexual overtones, though 
this is true enough. Insofar as O'Malley makes a propositional 
argument at all, he implies something like the reverse: that rhetori- 
cal, artistic, and religious vehicles with fairly clear erotic undercur- 
rents are shaped by cultural codes. On its own, the idea of "four 
cultures' 7 does not trigger transformation. But it does magnify the 
resources on which change, and the tolerance for change, can draw. 




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